New Delhi: Three years after GroupM merged Maxus and MEC to create Wavemaker India, the media agency has managed to corner 700 crore worth of new business this year with a mix of big corporate clients such as Religare Insurance (now CARE Health Insurance) and Sun Pharma and new-age firms and startups like Chumbak and Ustraa.

In an interview, Ajay Gupte, chief executive, South Asia, Wavemaker talks about pivoting business and focusing on content, influencer and digital video marketing to mitigate the impact of covid, relevance of TV advertising and increasing use of branded content across over-the-top (OTT) video streaming platforms. Edited excerpts:

What kind of recovery has Wavemaker seen?

Covid had a massive impact on all of us. It has been a bad year in terms of revenues and billings and an extremely difficult year for our people owing to work from home. But we have been able to pivot and win few businesses as well. We have built our capabilities around key trends which we were witnessing globally. There were certain key areas that grew massively in the pandemic such as digital, content, influencer and performance marketing. We had a fantastic run in terms of new business wins given the fact it was done remotely from home across three regions we operate in.

What new businesses have you won?

We have won upwards of 700 crore of new business which is possibly the size of some mid-size agencies in India. It is a matter of pride for us. I think it is a right mix of legacy as well as new age businesses and all of these wins were converted during the pandemic. We have won Religare Insurance (now Care Health Insurance), Mondelez ecommerce business, Ustraa, Sun Pharma, Chumbak, Lectro E-cycles, Lido Learning and McNROE Consumer Products (owns Wildstone deodorant) among others.

How has the pandemic changed the advertising business?

We have seen some fundamental change. Primarily, out of home, cinema and print have suffered during the pandemic to the advantage of digital and OTT platforms. Print and outdoor have started recovering since Unlock has happened. Television benefited as consumers spent time at home. OTT witnessed huge uptick because viewers were looking for varied content. Voice, vernacular and video will become extremely important. Smaller regional markets will become big using voice as a tool to communicate and search online. TV consumption will see a transformation where more and more non-live TV content will be consumed on multiple screens.

Which ad formats are expected to become big?

Performance marketing is taking the centre stage because e-commerce is growing. Consumers are evaluating options online and, in some cases, making those purchase online. OTT will see a massive upsurge going forward and with that branded content on video streaming platforms will see an increase. Wavemaker, for instance, has created a 13-episode series called “Scottish Tales” for liquor firm Pernod Ricard. Influencer content and promotions will also grow significantly. We have recently done big influencer campaigns for brands such as Myntra, MTR, Mondelez and Mother Dairy.

Will celebrity-led advertising lose value to influencer marketing?

I believe it will always be a combination of both. Celebrities bring massive impact and reach as brand ambassadors. They break clutter and brands piggyback on their popularity to build reputation and recall but influencers bring believability. A large scale of micro and mid-size influencers can also help a brand achieve reach because they have a loyal follower base which offers deeper connect with consumers. I see a lot of potential in this combination of marketing.

How has WFH affected the culture of an organisation and quality of work?

Firstly, I’m really proud of the way the advertising fraternity has stood up and adapted to the challenges that the ongoing pandemic has posed. At GroupM, we ensured that we had the right infrastructure support for our people be it internet connections or accessing in-house data remotely. We have moved to complete digital billing in March. Conducting multiple pitches and meetings on video calling apps has not been easy but we pulled it off with a fair amount of success. Our people have faced multiple challenges. Infrastructure at home is not the best for everyone, lack of privacy, managing family members at different age levels hasn’t been easy. We have tried to support wherever we can by offering counselling and conducting fun activities like ‘Do nothing cafe’ on every Friday where people can play games or simply catch up and bond. Human connection is missing and that has been quite tough.

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